With tensions between the United States and Russia at a degree not seen because the Chilly Struggle, and sure not abating irrespective of the path the war in Ukraine takes, our nationwide safety relies on the integrity of our intelligence group. The FBI and CIA should be capable of securely plan covert operations, and to make use of Russian double agents to hold them out.
On this context, simply think about an American FBI agent with top-secret clearance scripting this letter to the Russian intelligence chief stationed in Washington:
“Soon I will send a box of documents. They are from certain of the most sensitive and highly compartmentalized projects of the U.S. Intelligence community. All are originals and aid to verifying their authenticity. Please recognize for our long-term interests that there are a limited number of persons with this array of clearances. As a collection they point to me I trust that an officer of your experience will handle them appropriately. I believe they are sufficient to justify a $100,000 payment to me.”
Sound farfetched? Not potential? Suppose once more, as a result of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent assigned to counterintelligence and with top-secret clearances, started his practically 20 years of spying for the Russians with a letter nearly equivalent to this one. Hanssen, who began spying within the Eighties, is locked in federal custody and can stay so for the rest of his life. However he was chargeable for the betrayal of our double brokers in Moscow, and leaked a gradual pipeline of American intelligence to Russia for twenty years. His legacy of treachery continues to reverberate in the present day.
Because the daughter of an FBI agent and a third-generation federal prosecutor, I grew up believing the women and men of the FBI have been at all times the great guys, combatting crime and dealing arduous towards the last word aim of holding us all secure. My father was that form of FBI agent, and so have been the folks I labored with. My father stated Hanssen’s case was a devastating black mark in opposition to the Bureau.
Whereas so many have been working arduous to maintain People secure, Robert Hanssen was working simply as arduous to betray the company he had sworn allegiance to and the folks and nation he had sworn to guard. His promoting of nationwide secrets and techniques to the Russians price lives, together with that of Dmitri Polyakov, certainly one of our handiest Russian property, and gutted operations vital to nationwide safety.
In accordance with the Webster Fee report finished after Hanssen’s arrest, Hanssen carried out of the FBI constructing a quantity containing top-secret and special-access program details about “an extraordinarily important program for use in response to a nuclear attack.” The report places a $10-billion worth on the knowledge he gave the Russians. Within the course of, he additionally besmirched the popularity of the FBI and branded it in ways in which echo nonetheless: that it’s an company beneath siege, one unable to control itself from inside, and one that’s liable to infiltration. A 2003 report by the Justice Division’s Workplace of the Inspector Basic is harsh in its criticism: “[The FBI] suffered from a lack of cooperation with the CIA and from inattention on the part of senior management… The FBI failed to work cooperatively with the CIA to resolve the cause of these losses or to thoroughly investigate whether an FBI mole could be responsible for these setbacks.” Briefly, the FBI did not police itself.
“I have no reason to believe that there isn’t a recruitment in place right now in the FBI, the CIA, and the DOE.”
— FBI Particular Agent Jack Thompson
Hanssen is the place he ought to be, in jail for the remainder of his life, however nonetheless at massive are questions on his motives, his psyche, and the harm he prompted; whether or not the FBI has blinded itself to the teachings it ought to have discovered; and whether or not we’re any higher protected in the present day from a brand new Robert Hanssen than we have been from the precise one who ripped the center out of America’s secrets and techniques.
In writing my guide, A Spy in Plain Sight, about Hanssen and the harm he prompted to the FBI and to our nation, I interviewed scores of previous and current FBI and CIA brokers, and I requested all of them the identical query: “Can there be another Hanssen today?” The reply was a unanimous and emphatic “Yes!” This reply was typically adopted by an much more chilling qualifier: “And there probably already is.”
These brokers know that the FBI and CIA have carried out extra procedural safeguards due to Hanssen, together with elevated polygraphing of brokers, and intensive monetary disclosures by them. However fractured home politics and insurance policies encourage present-day would-be spies. For instance, when nearly all of the Republican Celebration refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency, or when seasoned senators and the minority chief of the Home of Representatives proceed to color the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the USA Capitol as a vacationer prank gone awry, the material of the nation is weakened.
These fissures shortly turn out to be large cracks, not simply on the American physique politic, however in locations just like the FBI which are devoted to defending the Structure and on the entrance traces of upholding the rule of legislation. Such an onslaught has exponential ramifications, because it essentially undermines morale and functioning. It offers implicit license to these inside such organizations who might need monetary issues or are discontented with their profession development or exist on the fringe of a gaggle tradition—or are merely in search of a thrill to perk up their bureaucracy-bound lives—to present in to their very own worst instincts, the darkish angels of their psyche.
When that line will get crossed, you may institute all of the polygraphs you need, run all of the credit score checks possible, however there’s at all times going to be one particular agent with a excessive safety clearance who slips by way of the online, scoops up a handful of significant secrets and techniques, and writes a letter to the Russians.
For a current instance of simply how this line will get crossed, think about Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, the Maryland couple arrested final yr for attempting to promote a few of America’s most carefully guarded nuclear submarine secrets and techniques. Jonathan Toebbe, a nuclear propulsion professional who labored for the U.S. navy as a civilian, allegedly tried to promote nuclear propulsion secrets and techniques to an undercover FBI agent by way of a collection of lifeless drops that includes reminiscence playing cards hidden in peanut butter sandwiches, Band-Assist wrappers, and gum packages.
Toebbe allegedly despatched a brown envelope to an unidentified overseas authorities in April 2020. Contained in the envelope have been delicate U.S. Navy paperwork and directions on how the nation—believed by safety consultants to be a U.S. ally—ought to reply utilizing an encrypted e-mail service.
In Toebbe’s case, the overseas authorities turned over the contents of his envelope to the FBI, which started an undercover operation to catch him. However what if Toebbe had despatched the envelope to the Russians? Would the Russians have turned over priceless intel to the FBI? I feel not.
Of the 150 U.S. residents convicted of or prosecuted for espionage between the beginning of World Struggle II and shortly after Hanssen’s arrest, 42 p.c of them have been authorities workers. As Dave Szady, former assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, informed me: “Is it going to happen again? Well, is the bank going to be robbed again? Is somebody going to be murdered again? How about corruption? You’d think politicians would learn that corruption isn’t a good idea, but do you think it will occur again? Of course it will. People commit crimes, and they’re not going to stop. And espionage is a crime.”
FBI Particular Agent Jack Thompson, who was concerned within the Hanssen mole hunt, stated, “After 30 years in the FBI, 17 of those as the counterintelligence officer at the Department of Energy (DOE), I have no reason to believe that there isn’t a recruitment in place right now in the FBI, the CIA, and the DOE.”
And, if the FBI has a mole, how can it act successfully in opposition to one other Hanssen or Toebbe? Even in a mature democracy, the rule of legislation can grasp by a slim thread. An FBI that fails to police itself adequately or permits its mission to turn out to be subverted or its huge investigative powers to be abused may very well be the one distinction between authorities of, by, and for the folks and authorities by a tyrannous few.
Odds are, one particular agent or officer might have already crossed that fateful line, and bought secrets and techniques to the Russians. And this time it’s not solely U.S. property and operations overseas which are endangered—it’s democracy itself.
The one strategy to strengthen establishments just like the FBI and CIA is to revive integrity and confidence within the rule of legislation. To try this, we should cease politics from bleeding into intelligence businesses. Political fissures ought to at all times be secondary to the significance of the Structure and democracy.
In analyzing Hanssen’s motive for spying, cash is definitely an element. However, based on his psychiatrist, Dr. David Charney, and his finest buddy Jack Hoschouer, Hanssen was additionally motivated by the glamour of being a James Bond-type character, by his fixed must be appreciated for his good work, and by a warped sense that in turning over secrets and techniques to the Russians he would someway make America stronger in the long term. These motivations are hardly distinctive to Robert Hanssen—they’re common in utility.
A supply I can determine solely as one of many nation’s main authorities on cutting-edge forensics—the form of professional each Fortune 100 corporations and authorities businesses depend on to keep away from penetrations and discover the culprits once they occur—informed me, “Once you’ve been cleared and you’re inside the FBI or CIA or NSA, you’re trusted, so nobody’s watching you, and you can do anything you want. The kind of information that you have access to at that point would just blow anyone away. It’s better than make-believe.”
Actual life, not make-believe, is warning us: We had higher study from previous failings, like Hanssen, lest historical past repeats itself.